Young Justice debuted on Cartoon Network in 2010 and featured a different take on the teen sidekicks of the DC Superheroes. Robin, a new version of Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian, and Artemis formed a covert group aiding the Justice League while being trained by Black Canary. As the season progressed, the group added more members. In the show’s second year, the story jumped forward two years to follow a new covert team, while the original group found their places in the Justice League. Both groups would continue to grow and change as a storyline featuring classic DC villains Vandal Savage and Darkseid led to a surprising cliffhanger.
And then Cartoon Network pulled the plug.
“Our boss [Warner Bros. Animation executive vice president of creative affairs] Sam Register told us that we created the perfect show for streaming, we just did it five years too early,” Bourassa said. “We always thought that was funny, because it is sort of designed to be consumed in that way — or at least [it is] a completely viable way to consume it because it has so much continuity, and so much connected narrative strands, and our fans picked on that.”
The first two seasons found their way to Netflix, and thanks to the emergence of platforms like Tumblr and Twitter, fans never stopped talking about it or asking Bourassa and producers Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman — who also spoke with us — about a potential third season, Bourassa said.
“Whenever we would go to do promotion or whenever active on social media promoting current projects, I would hear constantly from the fans about how much they loved Young Justice regardless of what I was talking about,” Bourassa said, crediting Weisman with “cultivating lot of their energy into a direct appeal … [so fans’] voices could be heard.”
That cultivation coincided with early planning for original content on the DC Universe streaming service, which created a perfect storm for Young Justice‘s resurrection. Weisman joked that there’s not much difference between the two eras of the show, just that he is “older and wider.” Seriously, though, Vietti told Rotten Tomatoes that the creative team wanted to strike a balance between feeling both fresh and familiar.
“We wanted to build something that was familiar to our fans in the first two seasons, but also pushed into new territory,” he explained.
While the arrival of Darkseid seemed imminent toward the end of the series’ second season, Outsiders picks up two years later and the villain is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the show picks up with the world facing a metahuman trafficking crisis: Young people with the potential for powers are being kidnapped and turned into weapons. The League even finds some of these press-ganged children on other planets, and it falls to Dick Grayson — who quit the team at the end of season 2 — to assemble a new covert group to investigate the metahuman smuggling syndicate.
Members of the new team include Geo-Force and Halo, both characters with long histories in the comics — including the 1980s story Batman and the Outsiders, from which the new season takes some inspiration — but known in animation more as guest characters.
“These [are] young characters that aren’t really sure what they want to be when they grow up. They don’t come from a sidekick type of relationship with an older hero; they’re just normal people — ish,” Vietti explained.
Geo-Force, for example, is a young Markovian prince thrust into the superhero world after the disappearance of his sister. Halo, meanwhile, is a refugee from the fictional DC Comics Middle Eastern country of Qurac, stuck in Markovia and trying her best to avoid detection as a metahuman in a country terrified of powers.
“They’ve got very strong personal stories that draw them into a larger story between heroes and villains,” Vietti continued. “Characters like Nightwing, Tigress, and Superboy sort of become their mentors, and that is our starting point.”
While Markovia was introduced in Batman and the Outsiders, Vietti felt the fictional DC Universe monarchy offered a fresh perspective on current events and a way to comment on refugees, international relations, and other hot-button issues. As that nation faces “questions about both immigration and national identity” and the “added sci-fi of metahumans and metahuman trafficking,” the setting proved to be a natural fit.
In DC Comics lore, Halo is traditionally depicted as a blond, white American (with an entity from The Source hitching a ride in her body), but Weiss and Vietti felt it was thematically important to re-imagine the character as Quraci. It allowed a subplot established in the first two seasons — an invasion of Qurac by another fictional country — to gain a human face and make both the refugee and metahuman trafficking plots “feel very real to us,” Weiss explained.
“That’s always been one of the goals of the show,” he said. “We got this show that’s got sci-fi and magic and fantasy and superheroes and aliens and all that great, fun, genre stuff we love. And yet one of the goals of Young Justice from day one was to ground the show in as much reality as we possibly could, down to the designs of their costumes and the timestamps that we’ve put on every new sequence. That led itself to our decisions with Halo.”
Addressing current issues in a more straightforward way was one of the freedoms the producers found in creating the third season for DC Universe. Where the Cartoon Network seasons had a younger demographic and a mandate to sell toys, the Outsiders season allowed the production to push “the maturity of the stories, and some of the visuals in the show in a way that serves story,” according to Vietti.
“We didn’t want to be immature with the mature content that we were visualizing and writing to have onscreen,” Vietti said. “We’re telling stories of superheroes and normal people in a dangerous world. The stakes are very heavy and dangerous and deadly, and the only way to really sell that in a story is to, in some cases, show deadly consequences. So I think our fans will hopefully look forward to that progression, that evolution in our style in our third season.”
While the series is no longer constrained by the need to promote action figures or assorted accessories, Bourassa added, “we still all want toys, though.”
In another departure from its cable channel days, the series features full end-credit sequences. Each presents a new, serene scene after the preceding 20 minutes of action.
“We wanted the end credits to feel peaceful,” Vietti explained.
Aiding that tone is a new lullaby orchestration of the Young Justice theme, which also serves as a contrast to the more ominous orchestration during the title sequence.
“We also slowed the credits down, just so people had a better chance at reading them, and there was time to play out the lullaby,” he continued.
Weisman added, “It’s our little gift to the fans as well because they’ve been so great supporting us and wanted to give them as much as we possibly could give them — within our budget.”
Taking the time to give the end credits a little something extra is part of Weisman’s overall philosophy for the show. Said the producer, “We really wanted to pack as much entertainment value in through the show as humanly — or metahumanly — possible.”
Young Justice: Outsiders releases three new episodes every Friday on DC Universe.